Donn Harrison doesn’t think of himself as exceptional. He’s a kindergarten teacher at Parkview Elementary School in Cameron, Missouri, where he also volunteers as a firefighter and ambulance driver/ EMT. He says he is just a regular guy who loves his family and his community.
But, millions of Americans think he is much more than that. They voted in droves, helping him win Live! with Kelly and Michael’s Top Teacher of 2015 contest. Donn won new laptop computers for his school, a new car, $20,000 and a Caribbean vacation.
What makes Donn such an amazing teacher and member of his community? California Casualty recently had the privilege of talking with Donn to learn more.
First, Donn said he is humbled by the attention and the prize. “My wife nominated me thinking I might get a mention and a thank you note,” he said. “Then, I got word I was one of 12 finalists. What an honor; it blew my mind to think that I was thought of as one of the 12 best teachers in America!”
Donn was astonished as people left remarks on his Facebook page that they had voted for him and passed the information on to their family members, fellow firefighters, EMTs and others to vote for him too. In fact, he now has more than 10,000 followers.
Donn is a little embarrassed about the notoriety, but he’s thrilled that he can highlight Cameron, Missouri, a small rural town where he said people still help each other and make sure to say hello. He often gets stopped at the store or bank by former students who want to share the latest news about their family, introduce him to their newest baby or thank him for the skills that landed them a new job.
As for teaching, Donn came from humble roots. He and his brother were raised by a single parent mother, who was a teacher. Getting through school wasn’t easy for Donn. “I struggled and had to work hard.” He said he attended summer school so he could continue to the next grade. Somehow the guidance from his mother stuck with him and he decided he wanted to be a teacher himself.
Remembering his educational hardship is what makes him such a great instructor. Donn said he is there for every student, especially the ones that have to work harder to succeed. “I’ve been there, I understand,” he said. “I work hard to make the classroom accommodating for those students so everybody wins. If you care and show interest, kids will do anything for you.”
Donn said if he could offer advice to other teachers and schools it would be this: “Put kids first. Make class work for all kids, especially those with issues,” he said.
Donn’s goal is to remove the stigma associated with being a “special needs” student. Realizing that all children learn differently, he said anyone can reach kids and get more out of them if you work with them. In fact, by integrating a special education co-teacher into the classroom, Donn finds almost every kindergartner that starts the year with an individual education plan is off them by the end of the year.
Oh, a couple last things; Donn is enjoying his new car, and after paying taxes for that and the vacation he and his family will take, he will donate any excess money back to his community. He also wants educators to know that he has been insured with California Casualty for a number of years now, and enjoys the Auto and Home Insurance benefit provided by the NEA. Donn said while the price was one of the initial things that attracted him, the customer service, the human contact and the fact that California Casualty gives back to teachers with programs like the $7,500 School Lounge Makeovers and the $2,500 Academic Award keep him spreading the word to others about the value of the NEA® Auto & Home Insurance Program.
California Casualty is proud to partner with exceptional teachers like Donn. It’s why we work so hard to protect educators who make our communities better by preparing the minds of future generations to come.
We are also thrilled that Donn will be writing about his experiences as an educator and sharing them on our blog. Be looking for more articles soon.
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters and nurses. Get a quote at 1.800.800.9410 or www.calcas.com.